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New nature reserve in the breathtaking Northern Drakensberg

The Northern Drakensberg, renowned for its dramatic landscapes and epic hikes, is home to KwaZulu-Natal’s newest nature reserve.

The 6 500-hectare Northern Drakensberg Nature Reserve, which was formally gazetted on 18 April, adds to a conservation corridor connecting the adjacent uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in KwaZulu-Natal (declared a World Heritage Site in 2000) to the Sterkfontein Nature Reserve in the Free State.

The new reserve is made up of 19 properties owned by 11 private landowners who saw the value of protecting their land in perpetuity and contributing towards securing the country’s poorly protected grassland biome and strategic water source areas.

The Northern Drakensberg Nature Reserve includes several established resorts which have been welcoming holidaymakers for decades, with many guests coming to explore the region’s breathtaking natural wonders, mountain peaks and lush valleys.

The new reserve will be managed by the Northern Drakensberg Landowners Association under a 10-year protected area management plan which is a legal requirement of the declaration. It details the development and operational goals required to ensure that the nature reserve is effectively managed in the way it was intended – to benefit people and nature.

Chair of the Northern Drakensberg Landowners’ Association Shaun Vorster commented: “It’s a huge relief to see this process come to fruition. We first started this conversation with other landowners in 2018. Initially we envisioned protecting 12 000 hectares all the way from the Free State border to the Tugela River. But the 6 500 hectares that we have secured are critical as they are made up of beautiful grasslands and, of course, there’s the water that flows from these properties into the Tugela River. Aside from all the endangered species, the grasslands and water are the cornerstones of this reserve. The news is still sinking in but we are already seeing the benefits of having embarked on this process.”

To enable a multi-landowner protected area requires careful negotiating and contracting, legal prowess and the correct administrative processes to be followed. All of this was enabled thanks to the hard work of Conservation Outcomes, with financial backing of WWF South Africa and endorsement from the provincial conservation authority, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

Thembanani Nsibande, Grasslands Manager for WWF South Africa, commented: “A nature reserve of this collective size contributes to South Africa’s protected area expansion network and, in this beautiful corner of our country with incredible biodiversity value, makes us even more inspired to see the level of shared conservation ambition and commitment.

“As WWF, we are committed to support protected area expansion initiatives within this region working with our partners such as Conservation Outcomes and willing landowners. As a result, another initiative to secure communal land within this area is currently underway through a partnership between WWF and WildTrust and other partners. This body of work is funded by WWF Nedbank Green Trust and will enable further creation of protected area corridors between communally owned land with the Northern Drakensberg Nature Reserve and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park.”

Steve McKean, Conservation Manager with Conservation Outcomes said: “We were privileged to be able to work with committed landowners and partners, specifically WWF South Africa and the Gerhard Froneman Grassland Bequest, to secure these critically important conservation areas. Without the support of our partners, we would not be securing these important conservation areas. This declaration highlights what can be achieved through collaboration between passionate and committed people.”

Grasslands are poorly protected in South Africa with less than 3% of the grassland biome currently under formal conservation. Yet, these areas are not only important for biodiversity but also act as giant sponges to absorb the high levels of rainfall in the eastern part of the country. The reserve falls within the Northern Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area which means it also contributes significantly to South Africa’s water security.

© Shaun Vorster
The Northern Drakensberg Nature Reserve is KZN's newest nature reserve.

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